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Israeli strikes may boost Hizbullah base

Hizbullah support tops 80 percent among Lebanese factions.



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By Nicholas Blanford / July 28, 2006

TYRE, LEBANON

The ferocity of Israel's onslaught in southern Lebanon and Hizbullah's stubborn battles against Israeli ground forces may be working in the militant group's favor.

"They want to shatter the myth of Israeli invincibility," says Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a leading Lebanese expert on Hizbullah. "Being victorious means not allowing Israel to achieve their aims, and so far that is the case."

Still, the intensity of the Israeli bombing campaign appears to have taken Hizbullah aback. Mahmoud Komati, the deputy head of Hizbullah's politburo told the Associated Press, "the truth is – let me say this clearly – we didn't even expect [this] response ... that [Israel] would exploit this operation for this big war against us."

When Hizbullah guerrillas snatched two Israeli soldiers from across the border, it appeared to be a serious miscalculation. In the days that followed the July 12 capture, Israel unleashed its biggest offensive against Lebanon since its 1982 invasion, smashing the country's infrastructure, creating 500,000 refugees, and so far killing more than 400 civilians.

Thursday, Israeli air and artillery strikes continued in southern Lebanon and the International Committee of the Red Cross said bodies were laying in the streets of some Lebanese border villages where fighting has trapped civilians. Also Thursday Al Qaeda's second in command, Ayman Zawahiri, called in a televised video for Muslims to join fighting in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon in a holy war against Israel. While al-Qaeda is a Sunni Muslim group which in general views Shiites, who make up Hizbullah's ranks, with disgust and not even as Muslims, they share a common hatred of Israel and the US.

In a televised address Tuesday, Hassan Nasrallah, Hizbullah's secretary general, said the Israeli onslaught was an attempt by the US and Israel to "impose a new Middle East" in which Lebanon would be under US hegemony.

"Our fate is to confront this plan ... we are waging a war for the liberation of the remaining occupied lands and the liberation of our detainees," Mr. Nasrallah said.

Ms. Saad-Ghorayeb says that Hizbullah's goals have changed, "assuming a wider strategic importance" in which the party is at the forefront of opposition to the Bush administration's agenda of transforming the Middle East into a series of pro-Western democracies.

"Hizbullah is in a unique position to confront the US agenda which if successful will be, by extension, a victory for Syria, Iran and Hamas," she says.

Hizbullah's top guerrilla fighters are mounting a stubborn campaign against the region's most powerful army in and around Bint Jbail, the largest Shiite town in the border district where support for the party runs high.

Hizbullah has had six years – ever since Israel withdrew from south Lebanon – to prepare for this climactic showdown. Instead of storing weapons and ammunition in vulnerable stockpiles, they are scattered throughout the south in natural caves, tunnels, and homes. Hizbullah officials say they have sufficient ammunition and high morale tofight for months.

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